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Anglo Saxon Treasures exhumed from Chessell Down in the 19th Century have returned to the Isle of Wight and form part of a new exhibition at Carisbrooke Castle Museum.

This major exhibition within Princess Elizabeth’s Room in the Museum has come about thanks to the British Museum trustees and is funded by the Weston Loan Programme and Art Fund.

On Chessell Down there was a cemetery for some 130 burials, which was discovered by men digging for marl (a type of silt or clay used as a fertiliser). Subsequently, the site was first excavated in 1816 before being extensively excavated in 1855. This yielded unique objects, which were sent to the British Museum. Some objects remained on the Island though, in local collections. This exhibition pulls collections together with those from the British Museum returning here for the first time in over 150 years.

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Later digs were undertaken at Bowcombe and Carisbrooke Castle in the 1990s. Nowadays, new finds come to light thanks to the efforts of the Island’s metal detectorists who report their finds to the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

In this new exhibition, there are a total of some 40 objects on display until 1st November 2020, including glass jewellery, brooches, an iron sword, pots and sword fittings.

After death, Anglo Saxons were either cremated and their ashes buried in a vessel or they were buried directly in the ground-inhumation. They were often laid to rest with ‘grave goods’ either representing their status in society or displaying examples of their artisan skills.

Under the Anglo Saxons, the Island was referred to as WIHTWARA, named after Wihtgar, an early Anglo Saxon King.

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As a group the people were highly organised and technically advanced in a rapidly developing society. They were also skilled craftspeople.

In their time here, the Island was a frontier of international trade and it is likely the Roman Harbours of Gurnard, Brading and Yarmouth remained in use. As an example, coins from mints in York, Somerset and Southampton have been found as well as examples from the Frankish Kingdoms, the Lower Rhineland and the Netherlands.

Conversion of the Anglo Saxons to Christianity began in the late 6th Century and their best-known king was Alfred the Great with his connection to nearby Winchester.

‘Anglo Saxon Treasures of the Isle of Wight’ opened at Carisbrooke Castle Museum on Saturday 15th February. Normal opening times and admission charges apply. A programme of events will also be offered during the exhibition.

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Great that we have had such returned here. The Island has so much of interest and little can be shown in the small, ill place Museum, which, seems more about video displays than ‘finds’.

Shame a lottery Grant could not be given to Carisbrooke Castle to build a huge museum, which could then alternate finds, ensuring those of us who are interested in local history visited more than just once or twice in a life time.

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